Discovering a future while exploring Desolation

Written by Jessica Robinson, BS Geology '16

SUSIE LAKE – Erik Fulmer, Alli Severson, Dr. Burmeister and I started the steep, rocky trek into Desolation Wilderness on a Wednesday. It was my first time backpacking and my first experience with any real geologic research. For seven days, Erik and I helped Dr. B and Alli (a graduate student from Arizona State University) explore, measure and map a relatively little smidge of rock called the Tuttle Lake Formation that contains all that remains of a mighty chain of Jurassic volcanoes that once perched along the western edge of North America. I already decided I wanted to be a geologist, but I had no idea what real research was like. I was excited for the chance to gain a little experience. I was eager to see where my educational path could take me next.

Desolation Wilderness is beautiful. No trash, concrete, or noise. Save for a few fellow backpackers, no other people too. And of course there are plenty of rocks. We spent our time climbing loose piles and outcrops of the greenish Tuttle Lake Formation and stumbled across the occasional igneous intrusion. We were searching for remarkable, mappable geologic features to help us unlock the area’s geologic history. While beautiful, the pine trees and tons of manzanita decorating the landscape occasionally frustrated our efforts by covering up rock units we wanted to follow.

While it’s neat to see pictures of rocks and geologic relationships in the classroom, you can only gain the true context for it all in the field. It was so much more interesting to try and define faults and igneous intrusions – to see firsthand the evidence for how all these geologic elements really interact with each other. Rather than just observing, we put our hands on the rocks and measured orientations of layering, collected samples, and compiled our important observations in new geologic maps. Initially it was almost an overload of information; listening to the rapid-fire exchange of descriptions and jargon that Dr. B and Alli threw around at outcrops. However, being surrounded by the geology helped these terms quickly make sense. I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned more geologic terms and processes in one week climbing over rocks than I did all semester in the classroom.

The trip really felt like camping with a purpose. We were out in the wilderness together, sitting in a circle sharing meals, sleeping in tents and, clouds permitting, watching incredibly full moons rise every night. We ate dehydrated food, which were surprisingly good, and talked until it was so late that we knew tomorrow would suck if we didn’t go to sleep right then! We worried about rain and bears, and conniving chipmunks that threatened to chew holes in unattended tents and backpacks in search of snacks. I camped with family and friends for years and bunked with strangers on many occasions, but I’ve never been part of a trip with a purpose like this – travelling as part of a group of people that have a singular goal and share a deep-seated enthusiasm and passion for the experience. In a broad sense, we were there for geology. And it was awesome.

Even the complications were fantastic. Whether it was struggles with field gear, rock types that defy definition, unit contacts that escape logic or igneous intrusions that are virtually distinguishable from one another, these experiences are as important to me as any other part of this trip. Yes, these experiences presented us with very real challenges, but we took them on together. We took them on because they promised to have a complicated and interesting result, rather than just a simple or predictable conclusion.

I fell in love with geology because I like rocks. I want to pursue geology because it doesn’t stop; there will always be new theories, new discoveries, and more fieldwork to be done. There will always be a new puzzle to solve. I look forward to the day at Pacific when I head into the field to work on my own research project.

Category Tool: